Uplifting coming-of-age film depicts British working-class life in the '80s

October 28, 2019

Blinded By The Light
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Starring Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwel, Kulvinder Ghir & Nell Williams
In cinemas now

Blinded by the Light is a coming-of-age film set in 1980s Britain during the era of Margaret Thatcher. It revolves around the trials and tribulations of 16-year-old Pakistani teenager Javed as he struggles to deal with his domineering and traditional Pakistani family, racism and Thatcher's neoliberal assaults.

The film is loosely based on the life of Sarfraz Manzoor, a British-Pakistani journalist for The Guardian. In his highly-acclaimed memoir Greetings from Bury Park, he wrote about growing up as a teenager in Britain and about the impact the music of Bruce Springsteen had on shaping his childhood.

Director Gurinder Chadha is known for directing films such as Bend it like Beckham that often deal with the experiences of South Asian migrants, and how they reconcile their converging traditional and modern cultures and deal with the conflicts that often occur as a result.

Blinded by the Light follows this tradition. At the start of the film, Javed narrates his experiences growing up as a Pakistani. He outlines the alienation he feels from Britain, the combined result of Thatcher's neoliberal policies, his domineering family whose traditional values and expectations are often at odds with  his own aspirations, and a growing climate of racism.

Javed deals with these struggles through writing poetry, which provide him with some form of escapism for dealing with the racial and economic turmoil he faces as a teenager growing up in Britain.

Later on, he meets and befriends Roops, the one other South Asian student in his school, who introduces him to Springsteen's music.

As a result, Javed gains inspiration from the parallels between Springsteen’s powerful lyrics and his own working-class environment. This begins a process of self-actualisation, where he becomes inspired to face his struggles as a teenager and find his own place in the world. This culminates in a brilliant concluding scene, where he makes peace with both his aspirations for the future and his familial connection to his culture.

The political background of the film makes strong historical references to the impacts of the Thatcher era on working-class Britain, in the vein of other classic British films set in the era, such as Billy Elliott and Pride.

Halfway through the film, Javed’s family faces economic turmoil as a result of his father being sacked from his factory job and forced into unemployment while his mother is forced to work overtime as a seamstress. An added factor is the growth of the far-right, with the fascist National Front organising a march through the streets with only a small counter-protest to oppose them.

Yet an uplifting counter-point comes with the portrayal of Eliza, who serves as the love interest for Javed and is a committed left-wing activist campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and fighting Thatcher.

Blinded By The Light is an uplifting coming-of-age film that authentically portrays the struggles and aspirations of working class life in '80s Britain additionally provides a powerful and true-to-life example on the power of music.

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